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1000 Black Lines

:: digital coffee stains on the paper of the blogosphere ::

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Ins and outs of literary and art scenes

Cliques are unavoidable. Most social groups have their in-crowd and their outcasts and there are multiple tiers between the two ends of the spectrum. The art scene is no different.

My wife and I were once invited to yuppie-art-crowd party. Women wearing Dolce & Gabbana brocade jackets with papaya-colored lace camisoles made in Italy and dark distressed wash button fly jeans (also imported) made us feel like we had arrived at a pretty ritzy party. We definitely felt out classed.

Upon arrival we were greeted by one of my co-workers, “How did you get invited?” Honestly, I didn’t know that the host who invited me knew any of my co-workers, but Asheville is a small city. I should not be surprised by six degrees of separation. It was somewhat of a relief to know someone else that felt equally out of place.

I was introduced to some local and national writers, but it was clear that they were there for other reasons. I watched, as people would attempt to ascend the social ladder. It was amusing and exciting and tiring. My wife and I enjoyed us at the party, met a few new people and left still feeling a bit like outsiders.

There’s another faction of the art scene, which claim a more bohemian crowd. It’s a group which isn’t quite hippie and not quite yuppie. Women wear buccaneer blouses and Carmen skirts and men wearing crewneck tee shirts underneath navy blazers and poplin cargo pants. Occasionally, I am invited to those gatherings, which often degenerate into political rants. Instead of progressive ideas, these cultural creatives recite boring credos that would have been interesting 50 years ago. But today, it’s like warm beer. If one is to discuss politics, then read history books. Even better, read some of the great speeches delivered by statesman. The effect of television on politicians is very evident by the nature of their boring rhetoric displayed during public addresses. Both parties offer tepid, emotionless speeches. Likewise, the emotive, organic merlot-drinking bohemians gather around paintings and sculptures and discuss all the failures of the art scene and government system, but don’t move artistic or politic theories forward. If one is to discuss art and move the art world forward, then read art history books and books concerning art theory. In other words, a glance in the rear view mirror adds perspective and purpose to the view of the front window. To be completely honest, I like organic wine and foods and I love good, stimulating conversation; in some regards I feel at home among the bohemian cultural creatives. But the intellectualizing of everything from politics to street signs... well, I often leave those gathering feeling like an utter failure.

There is another crowd populating the art scene on the fringes. The group of vagrant poets, artists and musicians seem to resonate with me. We gather and share diverse visions with respect and honor for each other’s work. Captain Tom, for that’s what he calls himself, was telling me one night, not to plan what to read at the open mic. “Just go with it, man,” he told me holding a folder of papers in one arm and a Styrofoam cup of beer in the other arm. He wore dark sunglasses at ten o’clock at night in a room with poor lighting; the kind of mirrored shades a state trooper wears. He smelled of too much liquor and cigarettes and was pacing back and forth trying to find a toilet he had already located once, but for some reason couldn’t find it on a much-needed second trip. “Maybe when we’re both famous, we’ll laugh and talk about this night in the hall in front of this painting El Toro and wonder if the crowd heard me take a shit," he said and cursed some more. "It was loud, I’m sure they heard it.”

These are the beautiful souls I gravitate toward. They don’t judge me as a yuppie artist or a bohemian radical. It’s like a church for lost souls. Some of the souls don’t want to be found. Others are searching for truth, and yet still others are just surviving by living out of a car and using someone’s front yard as their toilet. I wish I could harbor them at me humble abode. Some might come and find peace, others are too wild to tame. And I know by the world’s standards, if I desire to be a famous published poet and writer I should hang out with people of means and influence, but those crowds intimidate me.

There is case for elitism, which I understand, but have not entirely embraced. Maybe I will one day when I am wiser and older, but not now. Part of me doesn’t want to embrace the notion of artist and literary elite classes because I would not be among them. The literary trinity of Hemingway, Steinbeck and Fitzgerald are constellations in the cathedral of the American mythology, but lesser writers will never shine as brightly as those few. Yet, one may always strive for that goal and never give up.

That’s the visceral passion of the artist, poets and musicians who include me among their group. If you only know how to play one note on a didge, work it for all it’s worth. That’s your gift.

I know I am not part of the yuppie art crowd -- I don't have that kind of disposable income. Nor am I part of the bohemian radicals -- I love the boho fashion and the merlot and the intellectual conversations but the ideological rants weary my brain. I know I am more a part of this tribe of outsiders who have nothing to lose, but still are a very important part of a community. I've been wondering why I feel more comfortable with the vagrant poets, artists and musicians for many weeks and months. Is it the humanity of it? Is it the honesty of the struggle? I don't know. I'm still trying to figure it out.

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